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Exploring the roots of conspiracy theories

By Bertina Fan Dec. 15, 2022

The car crash that resulted in Princess Diana’s death on Aug. 31, 1997 shocked the world, with the circumstances surrounding the incident causing people to question whether it was truly an accident. A popular belief was that the royal family hired British intelligence agencies to assassinate the princess. Although the event occurred 25 years ago, people are still intrigued by it and continue to doubt the reported details of her passing.


Jane Hong Art

Such theories are known as conspiracy theories—suggestions made on the possibility of an unrevealed plot planned by powerful conspirators. One of the earliest known conspiracy theories was formed during the Great Fire of Rome, when a large fire razed the Circus Maximus stadium and burned a total of 14 Roman districts. According to National Geographic, rumors spread that Emperor Nero burned down the city to rebuild it according to his own plans.


Other historical examples of conspiracy theories include witch hunts and genocides. However, as reported by the Oxford University Press, it was not until the 1930s that the first psychological studies of conspiracy theories were conducted. By the 1950s, conspiracy theories were influencing public opinion and receiving more attention in the media.


“The majority of conspiracy theories are made for entertainment and rarely have substantial evidence to support them. People overanalyze events, causing them to make baseless claims. One conspiracy theory I know of is the belief that Earth is flat, which is a blatant lie that has been debunked by science,” Sophomore Mei Lau said.

According to Louisiana State University, conspiracy theories typically stem from a lack of official information and motivated reasoning—made up of confirmation, disconfirmation and attitude-congruence bias thought processes. These biases influence individuals to use data to confirm previous beliefs, discredit counterarguments and view evidence supporting their beliefs in a superior light than other data. Conspiracy theories also offer seemingly sensical explanations for complex phenomena, helping people relieve stress and cope with crises.

Jane Hong Art

Events that are most likely to generate conspiracy theories are political, historical or cultural, according to Karen Douglas, a social psychologist at the University of Kentucky. Several conspiracy theories are developed based on the idea that a group in power is plotting in secret. For example, the lack of official information during the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the circulation of several conspiracy theories—including one about how the virus was created by the government, social science journal SAGE Open states.


“Conspiracy theories are interesting as they allow us to understand what other people think of different topics. They let individuals see the various, unique thought processes of others. It does get annoying when people begin to repeat a joke conspiracy, but most are not too harmful,” Junior Ariya Acharya said.

Naturally, curiosity can lead people to question themselves and begin analyzing concepts they have not fully grasped. Conspiracy theories are an adaptation of this curiosity that delve into more indirect explanations for the specific details of an event. While many of these ideas may lack evidential support, some offer interesting propositions that could be further investigated in the future.

 

About the Contributors

Bertina Fan

lifestyle & feature school editor


Bertina Fan is the page editor of Lifestyle and Feature School. She loves birds and boba tea.








Jane Hong

artist


Jane Hong is a freshman at Leland High School and works as an artist for The Charger Account. In her free time, Jane dances to K-pop, watches k-dramas, and practices drawing.

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